Pushing the right buttons:

A review of Design, White Lies & Ethics by Dan Turner

Illustration by Geri Coady

I am a huge fan of Happy Cog along with A List Apart family. This article delivers on my expectations for thought-provoking topics and relevant guidance from professionals I admire.

Another thing, I’m pretty gullible. Did you know the close door button in an elevator does NOTHING? I had no idea, mind-blown.

My assumption is that everyone would like to be presented the truth. In reality, it isn’t so black and white. What happens when you want to be honest and ethical, and in reality people are looking for a little white lie? That close button in the elevator provides a little mental relief, a placebo effect, for anxiety. As a designer, I want to keep user’s needs first and foremost, but what are the ethical costs?

Being truthful to the nth degree is the ethical choice, right? We wouldn’t want to display anything that might not be 100 percent accurate and deceive the user, right? Doing so would be bad, right? Right?
Oh, I was wrong. So, so wrong.

This is an interesting conundrum overall. One I had never thought of or encountered before as a designer. Users want to be lied to sometimes, especially when it comes to comfort. When obvious expectations are not met, anxiety skyrockets and trust in the product plummets, a double-edged sword. And how is this discovered, testing, through good old fashioned testing.

The dark pattern article links referenced also provide a good contrast point, helping you to identify when you have strayed from the grey into the black.

Here are the early stage heuristics that resulted from this situation which I want to highlight. A good starting point if you find yourself questioning the ethics of your UX.

1. Match between affordance and real world. The affordance (false or placebo) should relate directly to the situation the user is in, rather than lead the user away to a new context.
2. Provide positive emotional value. The designed affordance should reassure and increase comfort, not create anxiety. Lulling into a stupor is going too far, though.
3. Provide relief from anxiety or tension. If the product cannot provide positive emotional value, the affordance should serve to reduce or resolve any additional anxiety.
4. Increase the user’s effectiveness. The affordance should help improve efficiency by reducing steps, distractions, and confusion.
5. Provide actionable intelligence. The affordance should help the user know what is going on and where to go next.
6. Add context. The affordance should offer more signal, not introduce noise.
7. Move the user toward their desired outcome. The affordance should help the user make an informed decision, process data, or otherwise proceed towards their goal. Note that business goals are not the same as user goals.
8. Resolve potential conflict. An affordance should help the user decide between choices that might otherwise be confusing or misleading.

Overall I would highly recommend the reading.

And if you were as surprised about the elevator button as I was, check this out on placebo buttons.

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